Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why I choose to send my child to an outdoor nursery

My daughter, ‘Little Moo’ started attending outdoor nursery shortly after starting reception class at school. Having attended weekly outdoor/forest school toddler sessions since the age of two, it was important to me that she continued to have this valuable regular experience and contact with the natural world. M attends school three days a week, and outdoor nursery for one day. Although she seems happy socially at school, enjoying the time with her new friends, she is usually ready for a break by the third day, and is itching to get to outdoor nursery. Watching her play freely in the woodland environment seems so natural to her, more in tune with her stage of development, what a four year old ‘should’ be doing.
At outdoor nursery M is free to play and explore in her own way and in her own time, she has a wonderful imagination and will happily play for hours without the aid of toys, making fairy houses out of moss and sticks, turning a tree in to a boat, or a puddle in to a lake. She can run, climb, relax, play, investigate, use a louder voice, all without restriction and without the need for adult guiding. Through her play M manages risk, problem solves, and practices self care, developing her resilience and sense of responsibility.
I am confident that M doesn’t miss out on any learning opportunities by being out of school, in fact I believe that she has the advantage of more, deeper, hands on learning which she wouldn’t get in a classroom. M has an advanced understanding of the natural world which has come from her first hand experience of playing and exploring outdoors. She has a clear knowledge of the changing seasons, growth and decay, and life cycles; can identify wildlife, bugs and trees, and could chat for hours about predators and prey! Any formal learning which is taught in school also naturally continues outside. She regularly practices her writing skills by using pieces of charcoal to show her friends how to write letters on logs, counts sticks, identifies words on signs around the park, and explores science through hands on exploration- all child led, child motivated, and enthusiastically approached.
At the end of a school day, M comes out happy but somewhat lethargic. At the end of an outdoor nursery day, M comes out full of energy, ‘bounce’, and invigorated! I am so happy that she has this wonderful opportunity in her early years, and will certainly continue to provide regular free play time outdoors throughout her childhood. Free play outdoors = a child’s natural state, the perfect and most natural way to grow, develop, and learn.

‘Slowliness’

I’m currently studying a distance learning masters module in Learning Outdoors in Early Childhood, and during our most recent face to face days we were encouraged to take some valuable time out to refect on our own practice, and I was introduced to a wonderful term which reminded me of the importance of stopping to take in the view, ‘slowliness’. So often as parents and in child care, we get engrossed in results, targets, next steps, plans,destinations, milestones, and getting from A to B, that we forget to just ‘be’. If we stop making plans, stop hurrying children along, then we open up the possibility to foster the amazing potential of slowliness, allowing children the  valuable time and space to lead their own learning. It is only then that the true value of play and exploration shows itself. I’ve come to realise that in making plans for children’s learning, as well intended as this may be, we are all too often unwittingly or unknowingly nudging their learning and experiences towards that of our own adult led direction, influenced by our adult perception of what the children need or want. In doing so we and the children are missing out on discovering the amazing potentials of child led play.
I experienced this recently during a walk with the children I work with. We had planned on taking a group walk to the nearby farm to visit a newly born calf. The children were all excited to meet the new arrival so off we went. During the walk I soon began to feel frustrated as I noticed that we, the adults were hurrying the children along, ensuring they kept to the path as we had our destination and time restraints in mind. When the children stopped, not for the first time, to play in an area of trees off the path I realised that they had made other plans, the prospect of meeting the calf was no longer their purpose or drive. While we adults had been keeping our eye on the end goal, we failed to see that the real goals and potential were all around us, the children reminded us that there is beauty and adventure in the journey. This is when we stopped, we followed the children’s lead and allowed them the time to explore the wonders of the old tree which had become their (current) new destination and focus. In doing so I observed some wonderful discovery-rich play and exploration. One child took herself off to sit on a tree stump away from the other children, she began investigating a clump of dead plants and examined the tangled roots, breaking them up in to smaller pieces. Two children went ‘fishing’ in a pool of water which had formed in a crevice of the tree. Another climbed over the large exposed tree roots while his friend made herself comfortable in a ‘bed’ which the base of the tree had provided.

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On reflection, by adopting slowliness we had truely allowed the children to shape their own learning, they each took what they needed from that tree, whether it be a place to relax, to climb, to play, or to investigate, they had all managed perfectly well to find this for themselves without any planning or nudging from us adults.
We never did get to visit the baby calf that afternoon. But there’ll always be other opportunities, and in the mean time, who knows where slowliness and the wonder of children’s play will take us! 🙂 

Posted by Home Grown Play

Taking time out leads to amazing discoveries!

I have been taking Little Moo along to toddler & preschool forest school sessions for nearly two years now. Lately I have seen her adventures, exploration and play change. She enjoys finding quiet spots away from the group, her confidence has increased and she’s happy and able to go off and explore by herself without my company or support.
Today, no sooner had we arrived and Moo ventured off to find a quiet spot to make cakes for the fairies, “let’s find a secret place where no one can find us.” She sat down at the bottom of a beautiful big oak tree, and sent me off to fetch some water for the cake. I took my time doing this, happy to allow her some free unsupervised time to play and explore.

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While making cakes continues to be a firm regular favorite activity, the way in which this is done has begun to change. Moo is far less interested in using the resources which ‘don’t belong in the woods’, as she puts it; rather than playing with the available pots, bowls, spades and spoons, one bowl will usually suffice, and much more attention is payed to the individual ingredients, with a carefully selected stick for stirring. She adds natural ingredients such as moss, sticks, leaves, mud, and bark.

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She takes time to look at and feel the natural ingredients, and In doing so this inevitably leads to even more interesting discoveries.

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Today, while breaking up a piece of tree bark which she had found on the woodland floor, Little Moo discovered moss growing on the outside and a milipede and woodlouse hiding under the moss.

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This gave me the opportunity to talk about living and dead things, and habitats. Moo was able to recognise that the bark was dead but the moss growing on it was living. We talked about how the dead bark had been useful in providing a habitat for the bugs. After investigating the bugs for a while, Moo put them back under some moss and leaves, “I’ve put him back in the dark, that’s what he likes- dark, and to hide from birds.”

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Finding a quiet spot away from the group proved to be fruitful in aiding our habitat exploration and discovery. We had regular visits from an inquisitive robin, and while Moo was off on a little walk to find feathers, I spotted a vole run along the leaf litter and under a large dead fallen tree. On her return, Moo tried to look for the vole, and we talked about how once again, a dead tree had become useful in providing a habitat for a little woodland creature. I asked Moo what would happen if all the trees and woodland were chopped down and gone, she answered, “the bugs would have no where to sleep and they could die”.

I have really enjoyed these quiet, unplanned times. As Moo approaches her fourth birthday in a couple of months, she is enjoying closer and longer investigations, she is keenly interested in learning about her surroundings, and is gaining the ability to spend longer time concentrating on more in depth exploration; the conversations we are able to engage in, prompted by her discoveries, are providing Moo with a good understanding of and care for the natural environment, one which I believe would be difficult to capture from reading books within walls.

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Taking time out to listen to the birds singing in the canopy above.

‘Taking time out to listen to the birds singing in the canopy above.’

Posted by Home Grown Play

Queen of the Forest

Forest School had a visit from a little princess today, or Queen as she prefers to be addressed.
She had great fun exploring the woods and enjoying the freedom to play.

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After a quick game of hide and seek, the Queen of the Forest decided to make some lovely orange mud cakes for her friends, the fairies.

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What lucky fairies they are!

Before leaving to return to the palace for her royal lunch, the queen had a little squelchy dip in the mud.

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Then off she trotted on her trusty steed!
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Posted by Cheryl

Play is in the Child

I have long agreed with the saying, ‘play is in the child, not the toy’. And after speaking to a friend recently about the importance of truely free, child initiated, non adult led or interrupted play, that same day Little Moo appeard to set out to prove this.

Having recently moved in to our new house, I had not yet sorted out the garden, all of Moo’s outdoor toys and mud kitchen equipment had been literally thrown in to the garden and left to lay where they were, awaiting a dry sunny day for me to venture out and find their new homes.

This particular afternoon Little Moo asked if she could go out to play, so on went the boots and coat and off she went to explore her new garden while I finished tidying the kitchen.

And without any encouragement, prompting, leading, suggestion, or request, Moo began to play uninterrupted for a good half hour to 40 minutes, busy exploring the bits and bobs which littered the garden.

After observing for a little while, I sat quietly and started taking pictures and jotting down what she said. I did this not because I wanted to show off any end product or take pretty pictures, but to demonstrate how children do not need to be taught or shown how to play, to provide documentation to support my strong belief that children play and learn best when left to their own unique and brilliantly creative devices.

The rain had left a puddle of water in the wheel barrow, and after venturing in to the kitchen for a spoon, Moo began to add spoon fulls of sand to the water. Taking time to stir it all around in between.

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She then requested my help in turning on the outdoor tap. Once i’d loosened it, she sent me on my way saying she could do it on her own now. She filled the watering can several times over and poured the water in to the wheel barrow and shallow tray, turning the tap off again after each filling.

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When the shallow tray was full, Moo lifted it without request for help, and emptied the contents in to the wheel barrow.

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The second time Moo spoke to me was to tell me she needed a big bowl, off she went in to the garden to find one.

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On her return, she wheeled the wheel barrow over to the bowl and lifted it up and down a few times, watching the water swishing from front to back. She then poured the water in to the big bowl.

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Then off she went again for a walk around the garden, and came back with a hand full of grass.

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The grass was added to the bowl, along with more spoon and hand fulls of sand.

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Her cake was finished, all in an afternoon’s impromptu busy play 🙂

If I wanted to, I could go over this little account of Moo’s independent activity and talk about the skills she’d developed, from fine & gross motor skills to communication & language. But that does not seem important here, after all, whether I write about her learning or not, she’d have still learned from it. For me, the relevance of this post is to prove that play is indeed in the child, not the toy. Children do not need to be taught how to play. No mud kitchen or adult led activity needed to be set up for Moo’s play, discovery & learning to begin or evolve. Children are natural born play workers. An important lesson for us to remember and allow time and space for. Thanks, Little Moo 🙂

Posted by Cheryl

Easy two ingredient squishy play dough!

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the easy two ingredient no cook play dough, so we thought we’d give it a try!
Off we went to the supermarket to buy the one ingredient we needed, a cheap bottle of hair conditioner. We already had lots of the second ingredient, corn flour, Little Moo’s favourite messy play must have!

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We also added our own (optional) third ingredient, food colouring, as Moo had requested red dough.

There are some specific recipes available advising on quantities, but we decided to just start out with a cup full of corn flour and slowly added the conditioner then mixed with our hands, and watched to see where it took us.

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Moo had fun seeing how the consistency changed from slimey to smooth. And I allowed her to decide how sticky or not she wanted the finished dough to be.

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By adding the food colouring at the end rather than at the start along with the conditioner, we were able to create a wonderful swirling marble effect. And Moo discovered what happened when the red colour was mixed with the white dough, “It’s turning pink!”

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After mixing and exploring the textures, Moo requested her play dough tools, and began making cakes and strawberry ice cream. Yum!

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The two ingredient no cook play dough was a great success! We’ll certainly be making it again and recommend you go raid your kitchen cupboard & bathroom cabinet, and give it a go! 🙂

Posted by Cheryl